London Art Spot: Orly Orbach

Dark washes and black pen and ink techniques lend a slightly haunting, mysterious atmosphere to a large part of Orly Orbach’s otherworldly portfolio. Her illustrations often tell a story and have been featured regularly in Ambit magazine among other publications. She has also produced work for theatre productions and album covers.

A Royal College of Art graduate, Orly has spent a great deal of her professional time with communities, allowing them to connect with and interact with her art. She has completed quite a few residencies in which she engaged with young people and encouraged them to embrace creativity as a form of self-expression.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Orly talks more about her residency experiences including time at Sceaux Gardens and why it was the most fulfilling, shares a list of authors that inspires her creativity, and tells us about her involvement in London’s theatre and film industry.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and in what way?
OO: What I really love about london is the diverse communities and the freedom to be different. It is such a free thinking place where you don’t have to fit in; there are multitudes of dress codes and styles. And you get to meet such a broad range of people. That certainly has an influence on my work.

LLO: Give us a brief introduction to your technique, the materials you prefer to work with and your method of approach to an idea.
OO: I like to treat every project like a new learning experience, find subject matters that I can relate to, allow myself to engage with themes on a personal level, and be experimental and think openly about each project I take. I find it important to allow chance into my work, and this can happen by being playful with mark-making, and in cases of collaborative projects, to allow other voices and ideas to lead me to places I did not expect. I like working with inks because of the way the marks flow and seem to posses their own direction, which I only partially try to control and shape. I like the flexibility of inks, and the permanence of the mark once they dry.  And I also like crayons and chinagraphs, and any other drawing material.

LLO: Your art seems to tell stories and dig under the surface of things. Are you influenced by the written word? If so, which authors or stories are especially important to you?
OO: There are lots of authors that are important to me, some of which are anonymous. For instance I have a collection of folk stories from around the world that never seems to have authors, only translators. I like reading about myths and often browse anthropology books for inspiration. As much of my work is about the interpretation of experience, I find endless inspiration in these resources. I also like theatre technique books and find them relevant. When it comes to fiction, I have lots of favourite authors, especially Russian and Jewish authors, and women writers have helped me regain a sense of magic when I lose inspiration, in particular Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. I love good poetry, and get sent a lot of very visual and visceral poems by Ambit magazine to illustrate.

LLO: “Haunting”, “dark”, “moody”, “mysterious” and “otherworldly” are all words that have been used to describe your work. Would you agree? Where does this darkness stem from?
OO: I want my work to be ‘otherworldly’, simply because when I make work I am trying to connect to other worlds. I think of the history of stories and image-making and inevitably I make work that comes from somewhere deeper within myself. Perhaps I make work for the past rather than the present, which is why it seems haunting. I don’t wish to make ‘dark’ work intentionally, and in fact, I don’t like ‘dark’ work that sets out to be shocking or aims to provoke an audience. The work I make is about trying to connect with something authentic, and if it happens to be moody and haunting it probably just shows my aesthetic sensibility. I personally do like to be haunted by high-quality works and ideas, and hope my work has some kind of authentic presence.

LLO: You have also worked with children on positive community projects like the “Wishing Wall” after the fire at Sceaux Gardens in South London. What was the purpose of the wishing wall? How does your art help to build a stronger community?
OO: My idea for the Sceaux Gardens residency was to use storytelling activities as a way of bringing people together. The project was called Making Play, and I thought we could play with fiction to create new worlds and reimagine the local neighbourhood, through small interventions, art activities etc. The incident of the fire happened at the very beginning of the residency. It was impossible to switch off from reality and play with fiction under these circumstances, so eventually I found a way to address the issue by asking local residents to help me create a mural. It’s a complicated event, but in short, the idea was to make something collaborative that allows people to say what they think, discuss ideas they have about how to improve their neighbourhood, to open communication between them and the council, and very importantly- to note down and acknowledge every single idea, and to do all of this in a way that is visually presentable without being too ‘pretty’, as it did not feel right to make something that is too decorative for the site, as I did not wish the image to distract us from the reality of the situation. My role was to find means of expression, rather than directly make the artwork. The local children did that, and they are quite proud of their work.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your involvement in London’s theatre and film industries.
OO: I have always found the theatre to be a very creative environment, and have worked with script-writers, directors, performers and musicians since I was a student. I see the theatre as an open classroom, and have borrowed much from rehearsal techniques used by performers. One of the best things about rehearsal is that they allow the actor to not know, to take chances and follow their instincts. The visual art world suffers from having to know too much, and I think artists are constantly writing applications, blurbs, reading art theory books and are busy justifying themselves verbally. There is also a pressure to come up with a ‘final piece’ straight away. So I find it inspiring see actors dedicating time to rehearsals, improvising and playing. Most recently I worked on the film Island by Tailormade Productions, and was impressed by the research methods used by the creative team, and how they integrated art into the whole film making process.

LLO: Which image, project or moment of your artistic career are you most proud of so far and why?
OO: The last three residencies have been huge learning experiences, and I think i have achieved a lot through them (-the Making Play residency, the Creative-Partnership residency and the Museums Sheffield project). I felt a moment of achievement when i visited Museums Sheffield on the last week of the exhibition and chanced upon a group of young people playing the floor-vinyl game and using the artwork. I think I’ve found myself through the Sceaux Gardens Making Play residency, although I felt lost there most of the time. I’ve learned so much from that experience, and from the people and children I worked with, especially Lauren, the family officer, who taught me a lot about the importance of the social response to art, rather than the visual effect.

LLO: You’ve done quite a few site-specific projects. Which was the most fulfilling? Anywhere special in London that you’d love to design a piece for?
OO: I think the Sceaux Gardens project was the most fulfilling. It was a long-term project that allowed me to get to know people gradually and test ideas before making site-specific artwork with the local community. It was supported by the South London Gallery, that has a very forward thinking and socially minded education team. It’s not often you get to really make connections with people and make work on that level, and the project was challenging and for that reason fulfilling as well.

There are a few dream-locations I would like to make work for, and I would especially like to make work within my local borough at some point in the near future.

LLO: Other London-based artists you admire?
OO: Lots. I love Elly Thomas’s sculptures and ink drawings, and was especially inspired after a recent visit to her studio in North London.

LLO: What are you working on now?
OO: I am currently working on a commission for the London Transport Museum, collaborating with young people from West London to create artwork for a bus-shelter in South Kensington, themed around journeys. This should be really fun to do.

Thanks Orly!

For more from Orly, check out her website.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Advertisements

London Art Spot: David A Smith

I met David briefly at the Trafalgar Hotel last month where his work was on show as part of a jottaContemporary exhibition called Into the Wilde which featured pieces that drew inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s work. He was hanging about like any normal graduate, drinking a beer with friends, happy to chat about his work. It’s surreal, perverse, playful, sometimes disturbing and full of energy.

And it’s been given quite a lot of attention lately, particularly due to his position as a finalist for the Catlin Prize this year. With an MA from Chelsea College of Art on his already impressive CV, David’s sculptures have been featured in Art Review, Spoonfed.co.uk, The Independent, Elle, The Guardian and BBC, among others. Perhaps it’s the bizarre materials he chooses or the narrative popping out of each piece or how quickly his mind churns out intriguing new ideas. Whatever it is, props to David for his long list of gallery exhibitions, commissions, awards and relentless ambition.

For this week’s London Art Spot, David talks us about experimenting with shark teeth and treacle, digs into his experience to reveal a bit of advice to recent art graduates and shares a story about his grandfather’s cane.

Thief

LLO: This being a London blog, which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
DS:
It’s an obvious answer but the Galleries and exhibitions that, if you were so inclined, could keep you busy with show openings and visits all week long. Although I do love, that even in this city, you’re never too far from a bit of greenery, a park or something similar to wander into. I need a little bit of nature close by as it helps me work and London has plenty of these wonderful areas a stone’s throw from the busy streets.

Together

LLO: What’s the most unusual material you’ve used so far to create a piece of art? Is there a story behind it?
DS:
I would say Shark teeth have been the most unusual material although I did do a project with a fellow student at Chelsea where we created a pool on the floor out of black treacle. We projected an image against it of two studious looking men and made it look as though they were sinking in the pool. It took 16 cans of treacle!

I have also just completed a piece which used a resin foetus skull. I re-worked the skull so that the jaw could hold a machete in its mouth then the whole piece was covered with a rich purple flock.

Together

LLO: Anything particular objects you have in mind to experiment with in the near future?
DS:
I have just acquired a resin bust form of a black bear. It’s going to be another light piece and a lot of work but I’ve been excited about starting on it since I drew the plan out in my sketchbook. I also have a resin cat skeleton that I’ve had in my studio for a while and I think now is the time to progress with this piece too.

LLO: It’s been said your work shows a “macabre sense of humour”. Would you agree? If so, give us a good example of a piece that best represents this part of your personality.
DS:
I would agree there is something slightly humorous about some of the works I make. Shuck was piece that had a dark streak to it yet kept some humour around it. It was a skeletal dog form I had finished with black gloss paint. I positioned the piece in the corner of a room, and inside its rib cage leading out of its mouth I had threaded electroluminescent wire that piled up on the floor beneath. It really grabbed the viewers’ attention when they entered the space, despite its small stature. It was an irradiated guard dog for my exhibition space, happily ingesting this radioactive looking wire in spite of it leading to its current appearance as nothing more than blackened bones. It became somewhat disturbing but also endearing as a creature that really shouldn’t be there, and wasn’t alive, but still had something life like and charged about its presence.

Shuck

LLO: Share a piece of work with the most interesting story behind it and tell us about it.
DS:
It’s perhaps not really an interesting story but it means a lot to me. After my Grandfather died I got hold of one of his walking sticks. I wanted to do something with it as it was such a beautiful wooden form but I also wanted to preserve the memory I had of him, protect it in some way. After much decision making I used the piece, and placed human teeth made from resin all around the handle of the cane. It made the Cane obsolete to any other potential user as the teeth defended the cane from the grasp of another. It’s a very personal piece and I don’t think I’ll ever let it go.

Cane

LLO: Animals (including skulls of dead animals) and neon lights both play a huge role in your work. Where does your fascination with these two elements stem from?
DS:
I grew up always being encouraged to look at and understand nature. There is always something new to learn and that’s the interesting part. Growing up in a more rural setting you get a firm grasp of the fragility of creatures in their natural habitat, and that death is something very close by. I use skulls because they show the fragile form of a creature. There seems to be a something divine about these forms, be it the way antlers have developed on roe deer skull or the way the teeth in a tiger skull are designed specifically for its hunting prowess. Light is something I came to late in my MA so I feel I’ve got a lot of experimenting to do. I like using light as it makes you work harder when creating sculpture; there’s a lot more to consider in relation to reflection and shadow. Importantly, the effects I can get from it are precisely what I am looking for particularly when I use Electroluminescent Wire.

LLO: Each piece seems to hint at a story. How important is narrative to you and do you think about this before you begin or does it unfold as you work?
DS:
Narrative is quite important in my work but my practice has begun to steer further away from a deep reliance on it and more towards referencing specific areas of animals as omens and their apparitions as bearers of news. I have a way of working that begins with one idea and soon gathers pace including other areas of my research quite quickly. It’s always nice to see what ideas and thoughts you can have when you start working but some ideas tend to be quite tenacious and once I begin with them I get a little obsessive about seeing them through to a specific conclusion I have in my mind.

Warlord

LLO: Having recently graduated with your MA, you’ve been exhibiting constantly, getting a good amount of press attention and positive feedback. Do you have any solid practical advice for other artists about to face the real world?
DS:
I have been more than pleasantly surprised at all the interest my work has generated; it’s been fantastic. The best piece of advice I can give is keep in touch with your fellow graduates if you can, and if you got on with them! Moving out of your college studio space is one thing but when you leave you also lose you peer group and these people are the ones that have been around you and know your work well. Keep these friendships and opportunities for mutual feedback strong. It’s always good to know what others are up to. It can keep you going, help keep things positive. Also if you sell any work from your degree show to collectors, then keep them in the loop about what you do next, what work you make next.

Revenant

LLO: Which other London-based artists do you admire?
DS:
There are quite a few, so, in no particular order: Alex Virji, Sîan Hislop, Blue Curry, Jeremy Willett, Sam Zealey, Aidan Doherty, Matt Clark, Amy Moffatt, Luke Drozd, David Cochrane, Abigail Box, Adam Dix, Lindsey Bull, James Capper, Tianzhuo Chen, Tim Ellis, this list could go on and on…

LLO: What are you working on now and where can we next see your work?
DS:
I currently have two commissions that I am working on at the moment that will keep my summer fairly busy but unfortunately both pieces are going into private collections so won’t be seen too widely. The next shows being mooted are in September after that I have a solo show in November, at the Yarrow Gallery, which has been pencilled in for a while now. I have also been approached by a gallery in Los Angeles but that’s a future possibility at the moment and still needs some discussion. I always try and keep something in my diary to work towards, it helps keep me motivated and dedicated to improving.

Wraith

Thanks David!

For more about David and his work, see his website: www.davidasmithart.co.uk

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.